Why You Need to Know Your Clients as People, Not Numbers

Advisors are preparing for a seismic shift in their client base as they prepare for the Great Wealth Transfer - the generational handoff of tens of trillions of dollars over the next few decades. A part of this change means interacting with a new client base that has very different expectations for their advisors.
Know your clients as people, not numbers

It’s such a great feeling when you can sit back with a client, show them double-digit returns on their investments with you, and know that they’ll walk away pleased.

The tough news here is, chances are, that simply won’t cut it anymore for most financial advisors.

Advisors are preparing for a seismic shift in their client base as they prepare for the Great Wealth Transfer – the generational handoff of tens of trillions of dollars over the next few decades. A part of this change means interacting with a new client base that has very different expectations for their advisors.

As we prepare for the Great Wealth Transfer, here’s the scenario many will face when it comes to customer service:

  • Advisor A has had a solid portfolio for decades that yields strong results for their clients and themselves, serving as the base for their revenue stream and the primary reason clients seek them out – performance behavior.
  • Advisor B has focused more on consulting clients, teaching them how to budget and spend wisely. This advisor operates their business almost as a subscription service focused solely on achieving the client’s financial objectives.

Advisors like B above will be the ones to become trusted-advisors and grow their business.

Meet Your New Market: Millennials…

Reports are conflicting on what exactly this new market of suddenly wealthy Millennial clients could look like.

On one hand, we’ll have more than 600,000 millionaire Millennials who will become substantially wealthier, further widening wealth and income disparity among their peers.

On the other, we have the potential for millions of members of the “unluckiest generation”—embattled by recession, housing inflation, ballooning college debt and now a global pandemic, to name a few obstacles. (Generation Z, meanwhile, will likely find it even more difficult to grow their wealth through the stock market and other traditional means.) But, as a result of this wealth transfer, many will abruptly pivot from having little to no disposable income to sudden wealth thanks to a life-changing inheritance.

While the reality will very likely be a blend of both, one thing to keep in mind is that we will be serving a generation in which, according to a 2020 study, a scant 16% were considered financially literate.

… But Don’t Say ‘Bye’ to the Baby Boomers

You’ll have a juggling act to maintain for the foreseeable future.

As you prepare to accommodate the younger generations as they enter adulthood and near middle-age, your existing clientele from the Baby Boomers and Generation X are going to be on the other side of these inheritances.

Do they know how to navigate the intricacies of estate taxes, IRAs, or annuities? Even more fundamentally than that, do you know if they have children or grandchildren they’re planning to set up within their estates? What quality of life do they want in their retirement, and how do they want to set up their families afterward?

In any of these cases, there are a lot of conversations—some very personal ones—to be had with clients.

The Competition is Now an Algorithm

True to form for “digital native” Millennials, and now the emerging Generation Z as they enter adulthood, many would rather use algorithmic “robo-advisors” than bricks-and-mortar professionals. With the self-serve software’s inherent conveniences and lower prices than traditional advisors, this is only going to stress the growing importance of the human touch of in-person services.

In short, financial advisors need to emphasize the latter half of their job title more now.

More and more of your clients will begin taking care of the actual investing on their own, meaning it will be your job to consult them on the right choices, versus doing it yourself.

Get to Know the Person behind the Portfolio

Sometimes a conversation about something that in no way involves your work can bear massive results.

There are the immediate needs to address. Do they have kids? A mortgage? Plans to start a business?

Then there are the hidden gems. What is their extended family like? Clichés aside, there are plenty of cases where someone inherits millions from a long-lost uncle. There’s nothing you can do to help these clients manage these inheritances if you don’t even know about them in the first place – every individual in your portfolio is important.

Finally, and probably most importantly, there’s the need to connect with a human being and build rapport. Again, this is where the demand is–the personal touch. You’re helping your clients make major life decisions with prospects of helping them with even larger ones in the future. What are you doing to build trust with them?

Keep Communicating

Your interactions with your clients shouldn’t stop at the end of a meeting or email exchange.

Here are a few effective ways to continue sharing your office outside the direct interactions:

  • Set up a blog on your website providing general insights from you, as the expert.
  • Send a regular email newsletter to promote your blog posts and other news that might affect them.
  • Use social media to interact with people and answer their questions about important topics – don’t just use it to advertise yourself.

The great thing about this approach is it’s win-win.

You’ll continue to provide a valuable service to your clients, helping them even during the off-hours. Meanwhile, this helps market yourself to prospective customers as well as retain your existing ones, all while reminding them that there is a human being who is an expert resource behind all of it.

For some specific resources to help you set this up, read our “Financial Advisors’ 2021 Digital Marketing Checklist.”


It feels like a bit of a shock to the system to make an about-face in how we operate our businesses now, often going against what we’ve learned over the years about effective financial management. But going forward, showing strong returns on investments is the expectation, not the exception.

We are looking ahead to a massive transition of both assets and the types of clients, many of whom are going to look to their financial advisors to provide a personal touch through guidance and care.

The good news is that the interpersonal skills needed for this change are ones that many financial advisors have already spent years honing.


Get insights in your inbox.

More Posts

CFP Tech Guide

What the new CFP tech guide is all about

If you’re a Certified Financial Planner, you have proven that you have what it takes to help clients achieve their financial goals. You’re principled. You’re experienced. You’re intelligent. You’re accountable.

Photo of a woman frustrated with technology.

Talking about tech bloat with Pat Spencer

Advisors are frustrated with their tech stack. A recent Michael Kitces survey noted that, overall, advisors report a satisfaction rate for their entire tech stack at 7.3 on a 10-point